I published this post nearly two years ago. I’m still struck by the power a person can play in helping move forward by sitting in virtual silence.
One of the roles I frequently fill for my clients is what I like to call an “order catalyst.” They often find that they simply can’t do organizing tasks on their own. But when I’m there, sitting quietly, they can go about getting their organizing work accomplished, be it decluttering, sorting, or going through their task list.
I’m not the only one who does this. It’s something that many professional organizers (or even friends) do. In the study of chronic disorganization, the term used for this is body doubling. I have to admit I’m not a huge fan of that term. I don’t think it is very descriptive and I don’t think it conveys the real benefit of the work. That’s why I coined the term order catalyst.
It looks like an easy job. I’m with the client, sitting companionably, sometimes handing her items or working on a small task that will help achieve her goals. If an outside person were to come in, he or she might wonder how I was earning my fee.
But it’s not as easy as it looks. Once I recognize that this will be the purpose of the session (it’s rare that we schedule one of these sessions in advance), I must refrain from offering unsolicited advice. I resist the temptation to chat to fill the silence. I have to sit still, staying in one place (that alone is hard for certain people), so I’m not a distraction.
And I also have to turn off my inner critic who worries that the client might think I’m not doing anything or she’s not getting her money’s worth. I know that I’m offering a truly valuable service; I just sometimes worry that the client won’t recognize it. It’s not a particularly reasonable worry. The client happily hands over payment, sometimes adding, “I couldn’t do it without you.”
I love serving as an order catalyst. Sometimes it feels a little like I have a super power.
If you have difficulty getting organizing tasks done, despite your best intentions, you might consider enlisting the aid of an order catalyst. Hire a professional organizer. Or if that isn’t feasible, enlist the aid of a supportive, calm friend. Perhaps you’ll be able to return the favor. It can be amazingly powerful!
In 2010, I starting publishing my Organizing Guides, my concise downloadable pdfs containing bits of wisdom on various organizing topics.
Today, I added a new Organizing Guide to the collection, bringing the total up to nine. It’s called Living the dream: 10 ingredients for a successful organizing business. My blog post on becoming a professional organizer outlines strategies for getting started. My new guide outlines the essential elements I’ve identified for creating and maintaining success as an organizer.
If you’re an aspiring professional organizer (or if you’re already working as one) and are curious about what qualities I attribute my business success to, please check it out.
All my Organizing Guides are $9 each. This one is six pages long. Click here to purchase it!
Since my schedule lightened up a couple of years ago, I’ve lived with relatively little stress. I work hard, which is occasionally stressful, but it’s good stress, since I love my clients and my work. Everything else has been on a pretty even keel. I know that I’m very fortunate.
But this month I’m facing some pretty serious health concerns for loved ones. And this morning my beloved standard poodle, Kirby, woke up not feeling well. We have a vet appointment this afternoon. (That’s him in the photo, on our friend’s porch.)
The worry is driving me to distraction. I know I can’t depend my time worrying because (a) it does no good and (b) I have stuff that needs to get done.
So I got to thinking about what I can do for myself to help me be productive, rather than just miserable, during these times of stress. Here’s what I came up with—maybe it will help you when you’re feeling stressed.
- Stick with my habits and make sure the basics get done. Luckily, my habits are pretty ingrained, so they’re getting done. Ignoring the laundry will get me nowhere, so there are clothes in the wash as I type. Letting my blog go unwritten is also not helpful, so here I am blogging.
- Have a good task list. A solid, realistic daily task list gives structure to my day and helps me know what to do next. (These days, I’m using TeuxDeux to keep track of tasks.)
- Know what’s important. I’m focusing on putting items on my task list that are both urgent and important. Now is probably not the time for me to launch new initiatives.
- Write everything down. My memory isn’t great anyway, but when I’m stressed out it’s really bad. I don’t want to worry about forgetting something, so I’m writing things down, primarily in Evernote (except tasks, which are going in TeuxDeux).
- Distract myself with some fun stuff. I’m trying to keep my daily task list short, leaving me some time to immerse myself in enjoyable, productive endeavors, like knitting, reading or genealogy research.
- Avoid mindless internet or channel surfing. It’s so easy to get on Facebook and lose a half hour (or more) watching dumb videos. That can be mercifully mind-numbing, but also completely unproductive. I’m trying to avoid that by consulting my task list and staying away from Facebook. But I do allow myself the occasional Facebook break—which I keep in check with the help of a timer.
- Practice self care. I’m always urging my clients to take care of themselves and not put everyone else’s needs before their own. That’s something that’s important for me to remember right now.
If all goes well, the majority of the health concerns should be over in about six weeks (shorter for Kirby, I hope!), so this is short term. I can’t put my life and work on hold for six weeks but I can practice the above coping mechanisms.
In 2011, I wrote this post and asked colleagues to add to it in the comments. It’s become one of my favorite (and most popular) posts, but in checking the links recently, I discovered it had become outdated. So I’ve updated it be deleting links (and comments) that are no longer current and adding some of the information shared in the comments into the body of the post, while leaving the comment so you can see who contributed it. I’ve also updated the text somewhat.
I regularly receive emails probably from people who are interested in becoming a professional organizer, asking me if I am hiring. It occurred to me that I could save them the time writing (or be helpful to people too bashful to write), if I created a blog post with the information I usually write to these folks. That’s worked out well—I also suggest the people who do write me read this post if they haven’t already.
So here’s what I think you need to do to become a professional organizer:
Love people. In my experience, being a PO is more about the people and less about the organizing. Of course you should love organizing as well, but if you don’t love working with people (and if you can’t stop yourself from judging the organizationally challenged), this might not be the field for you.
Invest in professional association memberships. The first thing I did when I decided to become a PO was to join the National Association of Professional Organizers. I would have joined a chapter instantly, but St. Louis didn’t have one at the time. We do now. Joining NAPO not only gives you credibility, it gives you access to the knowledge of a thousands of organizers through its online forums. If you live outside the U.S., you can join NAPO, but you might also want to check if there’s an organizers’ association in your country. The IFPOA is a good place to start.
Invest in training and education. The second thing I did was join the Institute for Challenging Disorganization (back then it was called the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization). I started taking their teleclasses, which were (and still are) extremely educational and also gave my confidence a boost. I took some education classes via NAPO as well.
Invest in conferences. I’m a conference junkie. I love them. There’s no better way to learn about the industry, in my opinion. I went to the first NAPO and NSGCD (now ICD) conferences that were available after I became a PO. And I’ve been to almost every one since. The 2014 NAPO conference took place in May, but the 2014 ICD conference is coming up in a couple of months. It’s September 18 to 20, in Nashville. The 2014 Professional Organizers in Canada conference will be held October 23 to 25 in Calgary.
Think about a training program. A number of professional organizers offer training programs for new POs. I haven’t been through any of their programs myself, but here are some of the more prominent ones:
Get coaching from another organizer. A couple of my favorite organizers offer one-on-one or group coaching to other organizers. This is a very personalized approach to getting help.
- Geralin Thomas of Metropolitan Organizing will answer any and all of your questions in her 60-minute phone coaching calls. (Hire her once or many times.) She also offers forms that organizers can use for their own businesses.
- Margaret Lukens of New Leaf and Company has a coaching program called Plan to Thrive that can help you create a business plan so you can thrive in your business.
Get your website going. I think a good website is absolutely essential. (I rarely hire service providers who don’t have one.) I know for a fact that my website brings in the majority of my business. My fabulous web designer Nora Brown, is no longer working in this field, unfortunately. If you’re a DIY type, you might consider creating your own website—though I think hiring someone is a good investment. I created my other blog, Organize Your Family History, myself using Site Setup Kit to take me step by step through the process of creating and customizing this Wordpress blog. (That’s an affiliate link, which means that I am paid if you click on that link and buy Site Setup Kit.)
Do freebies if necessary. In my first six months of business, I did freebies for friends in exchange for testimonials and before-and-after pictures for my website. It gave me valuable, relatively low-stress organizing experience (we took these sessions very seriously) and it helped me build my website. That worked very well for me.
Don’t ignore social media. When I was starting out, social media as we know it wasn’t in existence, but I did start blogging fairly early on. Social media can drive traffic to your website, give you a presence outside (as well as inside) your local area and help build relationships with colleagues and companies in related industries. I think it’s worth the effort. At the very least, choose one social media outlet and try to create a presence there. I use Twitter and Facebook most, but I know that Pinterest drives traffic to my two blogs.
Becoming a professional organizer is a fairly low-overhead proposition. But I’d urge you to invest in professional associations, conferences, training or classes, and website development. I’m awfully glad I did.
If you’re wondering what you might get out of becoming a professional organizer, check out the blog post I wrote in January 2013, Why I’m a professional organizer. If you’d like to dig a little deeper, I’ve just created a new digital Organizing Guide called Living the dream: 10 ingredients for a successful organizing business with more in-depth insights on what it takes to build a successful organizing business. This guide is six pages long and costs $9. Click here to purchase it.
I’d like to thank all the POs who have already enriched this blog post by adding comments (please be sure and read them). If you’re a PO, feel free to add your two cents if you haven’t already!
This isn't my bed
I hope I don’t shock you when I share with you that, until recently, I never made my bed. Here’s why: My husband typically gets up after me, so by the time he was up and around my day had begun and I didn’t give my bed another thought. (And he’s not into making the bed.) At bedtime, I’d pull the sheets and blanket up so that we could comfortably sleep in it, but throughout the day it was unmade. No big deal. But certainly not beautiful.
A couple of months ago, I read this post, Former Navy SEAL and I Agree on a Important Habit. Not What You’d Expect, on Gretchen Rubin’s blog and it inspired me to start making the bed. I decided I’d do it when I noticed it unmade. No pressure. Just a little experiment, to see whether it made a difference.
You know what? It does make a difference! When I go into our bedroom throughout the day, for one reason or another, I feel better about the room. When I’m tired and wanting to go to bed, I don’t have to take the time to make it.
I’m not big into lots of pillows and decorative items on the bed (that’s probably obvious), so making it takes just a few moments. It’s a small effort, but it turns out it has a big impact.
What small thing do you do regularly that makes your life easier?
About ten months ago, I decluttered the copious keys in our house and posted a step-by-step explanation of the process. I’m happy to report that the key bin has not attracted more clutter and we’ve found having labeled keys for our friends’ and neighbors’ homes to be really useful! Here’s that post.
I’m a big believer in having one place where the keys are placed when coming in the door. In our house, it’s been a coated-wire basket just inside the back door, where we enter from the garage. We now automatically drop our keys right in the basket.
The trouble was every key we owned was in that basket, so in order to find the keys I needed on a daily basis, I was having to do a little searching. After a few months of telling myself I needed to do something about it, I finally did.
I thought maybe key hooks would be a good idea for our most frequently used keys, but my husband really likes the ease of just dropping the keys in a container. And who am I to argue with ease?
So here’s how it went, step by step. I was a little surprised that it ended up taking two full hours, but it was time well spent.
Here’s how the key basket looked at the beginning of the two hours:
Step One: Empty the container and sort
I emptied the basket and sorting the keys by category. (I discovered lots of non-key items in the key basket as well.) Here’s a photo of the contents of that basket, spread out on my kitchen counter:
There were five categories of keys:
- House keys (a full set for each of us)
- House keys (a subset, for dog walking)
- Car keys (two cars, each with two keys)
- Keys to friends’ homes
- Keys to a work locations
- Untagged mystery keys
Step Two: Solve some mysteries
I took the mystery keys and tried them on our doors. We have a two-family house, but we live in the whole thing. That means we have two front doors and two back doors. And one of our front doors has two locks, though we only use one of them.
In that process, I was able to identify seven previously unidentified keys to our house:
Step Three: Label the keys
I got out my label maker and created labels for all the keys to our friends’ homes and work locations and for the newly identified keys. I didn’t bother to label the keys that are on our daily key rings; we know them by sight.
Step Four: Organize the keys in a new container
Barry and I agreed that the wire basket wasn’t great because keys would sometimes get caught in the holes. So I replaced it with a clear plastic drawer organizer I had on hand. Since one of the problems had been that it was hard to find the keys we needed among the many keys in the basket, I decided to place only the first three categories of keys in this new container. (Main key rings, dog-walkings, car keys.)
I put the labeled friends’ keys on a carabiner and the extra keys for our doors on a binder ring. I placed those two bundles in a basket that sits on the shelf next to the key basket. (That basket also holds eye glasses and cases.)
Step Five: Organize a few non-key items in the container
There were a few items in the old key basket that we like to have close at hand when we’re walking out the door. They include lip balm, lactase enzyme tablets and a little magnifier/flashlight that makes menu reading easier, and a small flashlight for nighttime dog walking. So I took a smaller drawer organizer and put into the larger one to isolate most of those items, so they’re not in the way.
Overall, I’m really pleased with how this worked out. It’s not perfectly organized by any stretch of the imagination. But it is organized enough: The keys we need most often are easier to grab and it will be as easy as ever to put them away. Now we can easily identify our friends’ keys when we need them. And if we need an extra set of our own to give someone, they’ll be easy to find.
(I bet you’re wondering what we did with the keys we couldn’t identify. The organizer in me wanted to get rid of them, but my husband was more comfortable keeping them. I put them in a zip-top bag marked “These keys are not for our house” and put them in a drawer in our extra kitchen where I would know to look for them if we were ever looking for keys that someone said they had given us.)
It’s Independence Day here in the United States and that got me thinking about what independence means to me.
I decided to create a little graphic to declare what I think brings true freedom.
This month marks nine years since I founded Peace of Mind Organizing®. The longer I do this work, the more truth I see in this sentiment.
Photo by Paul Poli via Flickr.